Lao Police Unable to Identify Suspect, Motive in Shooting of Hmong Christian Leader

Friends and family of Cha Xiong say he had no problems with others in the village.
Lao Police Unable to Identify Suspect, Motive in Shooting of Hmong Christian Leader An undated file photo of slain Lao Hmong Christian community leader Cha Xiong.

Authorities in Laos investigating the shooting of a Christian community leader two months ago have yet to identify a suspect and remain hesitant to say religion was the motive, they told RFA.

On the night of Dec. 13, 2020, an unknown attacker shot 28-year-old Cha Xiong, a Christian leader and member of the Hmong ethnic minority group, as he was returning to his home in Nam Bak district, Luang Prabang province, in the northern part of the country.

Christians have had friction with local communities in Laos, a predominantly Buddhist country where the communist government monitors and restricts activities by minority religions. Last year the government began efforts to protect Christians after incidents blamed on local suspicion and prejudice.

A villager who lives close to Cha Xiong’s house told RFA’s Lao Service that the Lao-Hmong Christian community leader was known to host Bible studies and church services in his house.

The villager, who requested anonymity to speak freely, said that Cha Xiong was well regarded and had no problems with anyone else in the village.

“On the day of the incident, Cha Xiong and his brother were returning home from working on his farm. After they went their separate ways, at about 9:00 p.m., when he was riding his motorbike back to his home, he was shot to death by an unknown assailant,” the villager said.

“His wife assumed he went to spend the night at his brother’s house, so she was not out searching for him when he did not show up. The next morning, Dec. 14, another villager found his body on the side of the street. He notified the family and the police,” said the villager.

According to the villager, the family confirmed that Cha Xiong had no problems with anyone else in the village and did not owe money to anybody, but police have not made any progress in investigating his case.

“We lived close together. He is a good man and I’ve never heard anything bad about him,” another villager told RFA.

“His killing couldn’t have had anything to do with his behavior. He had four kids and now his wife has to raise them on her own without a husband,” said the second villager, who requested anonymity for safety reasons.

RFA contacted Cha Xiong’s family for more details but they were unwilling to comment on the situation because they are still grieving their loss.

An official from the Nam Bak district security office told RFA that authorities are still looking for the shooter, and they intend to punish him to the fullest extent of the law.

At first, they suspected the killing was religiously motivated.

“But we are unable to conclude that because we are still searching for the person who committed this crime. But it is noteworthy that he was trying to propagate Christianity, and had been appointed to be responsible for other followers of that religion,” the official said.

Due to a lack of witness or evidence, authorities cannot determine a motive, so they are investigating further, the official said.

RFA contacted an official from the Luang Prabang office of the Lao Front for National Construction (LFNC), which handles ethnic and religious minority issues, but an LFNC official told RFA they were unaware of the case.

The Luang Prabang Christian network, which hosted a conference on religious rights guaranteed by the Lao constitution last year to spread awareness about incidents of violence and discrimination against Christian believers, told RFA it was unaware of the case.

RFA reported in October that authorities in Ta Oy district, Saravan province, in the country’s south, evicted seven Christians and destroyed their homes when they would not renounce their faith, a clear violation of the law.

The Christians spent two months roughing it in the forest, but were in December allowed to return, though they are forbidden from rebuilding their homes.

The Law on the Evangelical Church, approved and signed into law on Dec. 19, 2019, allows Lao Christians the right to conduct services and preach throughout the country and to maintain contacts with believers in other countries.

But in practice, the law only seems to apply in the capital Vientiane and other large cities while the Christians in the rural areas are still subject to disrespect by the general public, according to sources from previous RFA reports.

Though improvements in religious freedom conditions were observed in Laos in 2019, cases of abuse were still seen in remote rural areas, the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in a report released in May 2020.

Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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